Today is a really big deal for me. Today marks 10 years since I last gave in to an addiction of self harm.
I don’t talk about this much. Honestly, I’m terrified to be public with this. I’m the seminary wife. I’m the soon-to-be pastor’s wife. I worry that people in the church will see me as a strange, twisted person – because what kind of person purposefully hurts herself?
However, I’m terrified not to talk about it. I am scared to death that somewhere out there, someone – maybe even a Christian like me – is struggling with self harm, someone who could be helped by my story. If I stay silent out of fear of judgment, then what did my experience teach me? What did it mean for me to go through that if it can’t be used for something bigger?
I’m sure there will be people who will hear of my past or see my scars and find me unworthy to be who I try to be – unworthy to be a pastor’s wife, a teacher, a leader, unworthy to be a mother. That’s something I need to face and something I need to learn how to deal with. The title of my blog, Broken Quiet: Writing Without Wearing the Mask, are all about breaking that silence, removing that mask, and helping people through my experience. I believe that’s why God allowed me to go through all that I survived – to help others.
So here it goes…
When people hear about cutting (or any form of self harm), they often picture some goth/punk/emo teenager who needs to get over an identity crisis and stop looking for attention and have a stronger faith. There are so many things wrong with this assumption.
First, many of those struggling with self harm are not teenagers; many of them are adults – some who started younger, and others who started in adulthood. Sadly, children also deal with self harm. It’s in our grade schools. It can start young.
Second, a person’s style of dress does not mean they are or are not depressed. You can have a blonde-haired girl who wears pink dresses every day, and she still may be dealing with depression. Appearance means nothing.
Third, sometimes self harm is not about attention, but sometimes it is – and that is okay. When someone is depressed, shouldn’t we be telling them to get help? Shouldn’t we be telling them that they need the attention of their parents/guardians, their teachers, and a counselor? Give these people positive attention. Help them see that they have meaning, because they are having trouble seeing it on their own.
Lastly, religion. When a Christian is shocked that I would do such a thing, I point out that several people in the Bible did the same, including Job (pronounced jobe). I read through the entire Bible, and I found several more verses describing people who cut themselves when facing extreme grief. These include Leviticus 19:28, Leviticus 21:5, Deuteronomy 14:1, Deuteronomy 23:1, 1 Kings 18:28, Job 2:8, Jeremiah 41:5, Jeremiah 47:5, Jeremiah 48:37, Hosea 7:14, and Mark 5:5.
I was a Christian, and I was a cutter. The time my faith was strongest was probably during the years I was cutting. Why? Because I needed God more than ever during that time of my life. I relied on Him just to get me through a mundane day. And honestly, now that I’m “normal,” I miss that, because now I have to constantly remind myself that I need God. I don’t turn to Him as naturally as I did before. All this is to say that people who self harm come from all sorts of religious backgrounds. Christians should not assume that a person has no faith just because s/he is struggling with a self harm addiction (or any addiction). However, I must add that I give all credit to successfully fighting this addiction the past 10 years to God. There is no one else who can do what He has done for me – no other person and no other god can love me like my God loves me.
If I haven’t lost you yet, allow me to tell you my story.
I had been through bullying and sexual assault at my grade school. The summer between 7th and 8th grade, our furnace exploded during an air conditioner installation. I was dealing with depression, anxiety, and PTSD – but I didn’t know it. I didn’t know that my feelings were symptoms, and so I hid them. I hid them so well, not even my parents knew what was going on.
By the time I was 15, I was a complete wreck. The smell of a burning candle would make me relive the explosion. (I didn’t know this was a flash back.) I could barely muster up the energy to get through a day of school, because school meant smiling and pretending that I was normal, and a continuous act is exhausting.
One day, during the autumn of my sophomore year, I was giving my cat her medication. This required that I cut her pill in half using a pill cutting tool. The pill cutter sliced my finger. I immediately started scolding myself. You stupid idiot. You can’t do anything right. You deserve that cut. You deserve to bleed. At that moment, something clicked. Before I even knew what I was doing, I started dragging the pill cutter over my skin, creating several cuts. I got a very calm, sleepy feeling. I cleaned everything up, left the bathroom, and relaxed.
Thus began my habit. Create some cuts on my arm or leg, feel calm and peaceful, continue on with my day. Whenever I felt overwhelmed, like I just couldn’t handle one more thing, I turned to my razor, and soon I was feeling calm again.
A few months into this routine, I came across the term “cutting” online. I had never heard of it before. I had no idea other people did what I did. It shocked me and scared me that this was something people got professional help for. Finding out that I was a cutter made me realize just how serious my feelings were – that I really was dealing with a beast called Depression.
And yet, I hid. My routine was working for me. Cutting calmed me. Looking back, I realize I only became more withdrawn. The thoughts behind cutting were not healthy – believing I needed to be physically punished for every little mistake. Perhaps cutting helped me cope in some ways, but overall, it was a dangerous game to play.
About that time, teachers were noticing a change in me. After several comments, I admitted to my parents that I had been considering suicide and had even tried to swallow pills once. It was decided that I should start counseling. My dad found a Christian counselor for me.
Around Christmas time, one of my best friends discovered my self harm secret when she grabbed my arm. She said she couldn’t keep this secret for me. She told her dad. If I didn’t tell my parents, her dad would tell mine. I was angry at her. I felt so betrayed. I decided to take as much control of the situation as I could and tell my dad while I was in counseling. I knew he would be heartbroken, and I wanted the counselor to be there for him. (By the way, this girl is one of my very closest friends to this day.)
That night was the worst night of my life; it was even worse than the night of the explosion. My parents were hurt, confused, and so worried for their child. They received news no parent wants to hear about their daughter.
Counseling was the best thing for me, though. I found out why I always felt so calm and sleepy after a cutting session; self harm is a chemical addiction. When a person’s body is hurt, the body sends messages to the brain, and the brain releases endorphins to act as pain relievers. Eventually, a person comes to rely on that sudden release of endorphins, and an addiction results.
Addictions have a way of escalating until they control you. Eventually, I began cutting even when I wasn’t upset. Sometimes, I cut just because it had been awhile, and I felt like I craved it.
With counseling, help from family, teachers, and friends, and hearing God’s Word in church every week, I eventually realized that cutting was bad; punishing myself was bad. When the movie The Passion of the Christ came out, I was finally struck with the realization that Christ went through so much to carry my sin. He bled so that I didn’t have to. All my mistakes are already forgiven. I didn’t need to be punished; I needed to trust that Jesus paid my ransom because He loves me.
Now that I consciously knew I wanted to stop cutting, I still had to fight the physical addiction. At first, just going two days was a big deal. Sometimes I went weeks, but I kept falling back. At one point, I had gone months, and I was just not happy. I wanted to cut, still. I was just fighting it because I knew it was the right thing to do. I spoke to a counselor about this at a Christian camp, and he told me that until I really truly wanted to stop, relapse would be more than likely.
Not long after that conversation, I cut. And I hated myself for it. For the first time, I was so upset that I gave in. And that’s when I realized, I was ready to fight – not because it was the right thing to do, but because I wanted to be free.
Several months in, I started dating a guy at my college. We had gone to high school together, but he didn’t know about my cutting. When we started dating, I was very open with him about what I had been through. I wanted him to know what he was getting into, but I also wasn’t interested in dating someone who couldn’t respect me. As it turned out, he was the best thing for me. Whenever I had a craving or was struggling to cope with anxiety, depression, or a PTSD episode, he was there. Sometimes, my hands would shake because I wanted to cut so badly, but he would sit with me and hold my hands.
Today, 10 years later, he is still with me. He married me.
I still struggle sometimes. I will always be in recovery until this life is over, until I join my Savior in heaven and am finally cured from clinical depression, anxiety, and PTSD. But God has put some amazing people in my life who have helped me come this far. My parents, sister, teachers, and my husband have been such a huge help to me. Organizations such as To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) and Celebrate Recovery are such an encouragement. One of my favorite bands, Switchfoot, supports TWLOHA. The songs, Scream, by ZoeGirl and Scars by Jonny Diaz are two Christian songs that have addressed self harm in such a meaningful way for me. God has put so many people in my life to remind me that He loves me, and I am worthy.
And in my weakest moments, I remember this:
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5